things the indian people are doing – 2 :: the mumbai wall project, tulsi road ::

Letter to an ex- mumbaikar:

” see! brilliant idea of bee-emm-cee!
  see! hordes of dreamers descend on pipe road, tulsi!
( )
see! a row of dull gray transform into a wall of whimsy and wit!
see! lurid bollywood posters of “gair” & “aladin” plastered all over it!
(as amitabh glowers and snarls,  riteish plays the lover –
the ex- chief minister’s son, now returned to power)
see! righteous indignation galvanise sensitive bombay youth,
see  anger and disgust for publicity most uncouth.
( )
see striped-shirt man in far corner snigger,
(himself a much-maligned, cliched figure)
and whisper:
“yeh hai mumbai meri jaan!”
–     nirvana demon (2009)”


11 of october, 2009 :: things the indian people are doing – 1 ::

This column is inspired by the immensely popular “stuff white people like” [read]

With significant differences, of course. I’m not white, for instance.  Neither am I christian (nor is my name Christian, for that matter). And most, importantly, Indians aren’t white.

Other attributes are also that they are not homogenous : scattered as they are across more than a couple millenia and a few thousand square kilometres in that faux-rhomboid subcontinent south of the himalayas and flanked by the seas. With a political identity that crystallised itself to its presentness only about 60 years back, (and with transplanted seeds scattered far and wide across the world: Jamaica, Durban, Mauritius, San Jose, Dubai, Toronto), Indianness is both an identity and a self-realisation… who is to say william dalrymple is not Indian, or that the swollen masses outside a soccer field in port au prince are…?

Yet there is a common thread that unites them all, and a common set of likely actions and predictable responses, a thread that broadly fits into the things that the indian people are doing…


Its ironic, perhaps, that I begin this series with things Indians are not doing,  what they internalise not to do from a very young age, and what they eventually never learn to do until their dying day, where they would no doubt push and shove to get through the Pearly gates too (“me first! me first!! You bleddy Saint Peter, Do you know who my father is??”)

We were driving through the orderly streets of Durban’s downtown, and suddenly came to a chaotic junction where three cars converged on us, seemingly oblivious of the traffic lights… I turned to her and asked reflexly “Guess where the Indian part of town is!”  She rolled here eyes laterally towards the nearest samosa stall…

Indians hate queues. The fact that someone else should get ahead of me, merely because of having reached that part of the universe earlier, in that specific space-time continuum, is a fact that is abhorrent to every Indian. Queue after queue in front of ticket counters will be thrown into disarray by the one joker who barges up to the head, and tries to muscle his way to the head of the line. What adds insult to injury, of course, is how he will then proceed to turn and loudly berate the people behind him in the line “Why are you pushing me, yes? what-what is it that you are doing?”, or better still, the ones who turn with a sweet smile, and assure you that yes, this is just a small interruption, and he will be off once he is done with the small task of buying the ticket….

And as the snaking queue that stretches all the way to the main gate (and spilling into the road outside) shouts and screams at the interloper in one voice, he will react with equal fervour. His shameless persistence in the face of all berations or his baleful retreat in the face of insurmountable odds will determine his success in the larger Indian Rat Race, where a billion pushing, jostling, shoving mass will leave you behind, if you don’t struggle… to stay in the lead.

And his loud protestations will give a million reasons why he should be allowed to precede everyone else waiting patiently behind him: his urgency, his occupation, his dying grandmother, his broken-down car, his connections in the ruling party, his previous experience waiting in the same line, or, most importantly… his Father’s position in society… (jaanta nahin mera baap kaun hain?)

But that is the subject of another post.


2nd october 2009 :: Happy Birthday ::

Barack Obama just increased his fan base by another 100 million or so. Amid widespread american disaffection with what they see as selling out to the devil (read republican profligacy and heavy-handedness), this man is looking at other, more friendly shores for his re-election bid.

He should come to India, really. Considering the country’s future options are between a scion of the Nehru Royal family, (whose most notable asset is to be described as  “well-meaning” and “sincere” by commentators getting their panties in a wad to give him a great review) and who-knows-whom from the beejaypee, the leader most likely to succeed advani’s inglorious and inevitable exit.

Anyway, Obama should know at least that this is one country where ure parents’ miscegenation is certainly something that qualifies you to aspire to the highest office in the country. Where else would he be able to find such an accomodating and broad-minded electorate?

is what Obama said, and as the article points out, if he could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, it would be The Mahatma. A man who was the single most important person to cause the ultimate dismantling of the British Empire, admired by a man who has succeeded one of the most vilified neo-imperialists of recent times.

Its not ironic, just interesting. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On to other things: I had the most amazing weekend away from cold, misty and freezing-at-times Hilton last week. Drove to Coffee Bay, a beach resort in the Eastern Cape, beyond Mthatha. Coffee Bay is called that because sometime n the late 1800-s, a ship carrying coffee beans washed ashore on the beach and for a brief, crazy while, coffee plants grew along the eastern cape’s coast. The plants died soon enough, and the bay never got back to its coffee-growing ways, but the name has stuck.

The eastern cape is among the poorest areas in SA, a former homeland where poverty and neglect were allowed to run riot, where successive legislations like the Bantu Education Act 1953 created a large population bereft of skills or knowledge in a part of the country not particularly blessed with arable land or large natural harbours. It is also home to Nelson Mandela, a Xhosa who was brought up in a village outside Mthatha.

Indeed, Port St. John, north of Coffee Bay, and about one hour from Mthata, is the site of some of the best cannabis grown in SA. This weed was shipped in large numbers by the government and surreptitiously supplied to the Black workers in the mines in Gauteng (thats Johannesburg and its surrounding areas) so as to keep them perpetually dull and simple, giggling and drooling, staring at random events by the wayside, and laughing.

Kept apathetic and moribund by a willing government, the mind boggles to even imagine the incredible amount of insult and injury that must have been perpetuated in the notorious ‘hostels’ outside Jo’Burg. It also makes so much more sinister reading when you think of the number of women who may have been consuming alcohol and cannabis and tobacco through their pregnancy, and to imagine the number of children born with deficiencies.

The blacks who lived in the homelands were used as cheap labour, in homes and on mines. The steady stream of migrant labour created parentless homes and unsupervised children in the villages, and rampant promiscuity and breakdown of family structures in the mines and at workplaces. Add to that the AIDS epidemic, and this potent brew of patriarchal african value systems, insiduous white oppression, systematic neglect and marginalisation, poor health outcomes and internecine rivalry, and this powder keg of conflicting interests is just about ready to go ka-boom, like noone else’s business.

Still, Coffee bay is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, and along with its beautiful and more famous neighbour, Hole-in-the-Wall, it forms among the most beautiful natural rock formation on the seas that i have ever seen. We stayed at a place called coffee shack, across the river, on the beach.


The weekend we went was that of the Worldwide Earth day celebrations, and in 200 sites across the world, a trance party was being held to herald the world’s imminent descent into destruction. As stoned presenters greeted their happy audiences with “got some spliffs on u?”, trance music throbbed in the background and psychedelic colours glowered from the walls. We were in a cottage nearby, and 72 hours of pulsating techno accompanied our vacation at coffee bay. Sometime during Day2, Mr DJ decided that he would use his strange machine-like grunts to fill up the space between spliff-breaks. Having realised that he was onto a good thing, (or passing out next to the munchies in the back kitchen), the machine-groans continued for the next 12 hours. As I woke up, disoriented, at 3 in the AM, a washing machine was making its bizarre mating call to another. Some serious discussions later, a refrigerator had joined in the chorus, and all three were engaged in loudly addressing each other across the bar mouth.

I turned over, muttering angrily in my sleep. Save the world with lousy trance and inebriation. May work. All I know is that I wanna have my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.

All hail Jim Morrison, american poet, savant of the torpedoed masses!!!!!!!